CLEVELAND, Ohio - Nestled between Downtown Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River and West 25th St in Ohio City sits the six acre Ohio City Farm. Many people who live and work in Cleveland may be unaware one of the largest urban farms in the country is just a few blocks away.
The farm was started in 2010 by Ohio City Incorporated, the Cuyahoga County Metropolitan Housing Authority and Great Lakes Brewing Company on land that was once public housing.
The farm has a national reputation for its long-success as one of the most productive urban farms in North America, but it’s also been recognized because it it run almost entirely by refugees.
“I think we pride ourselves on being able to provide infrastructure for opportunity and that is exactly how I see the farm,” says Michael Bartunek, senior farm manager.
The farm is powered by the local organization Refugee Response, which helps refugees resettle and make a life for themselves in Cleveland.
Ohio City Farm is a great way for refugees to continue the traditions of their culture and
“In many other countries especially in rural areas people are at least using subsistence agriculture to feed their families whether that’s a small garden or a community garden where many people from a village are farming together,” Bartunek explained.
Lar Doe started working at Ohio City Farm in 2012 and is now the farm site manager. He is originally from Burma.
“Before I came to the U.S. I spent more than 15 years in a refugee camp in Thailand,” Lar Doe explained. He says he was not allowed to leave the three square mile refugee camp. The children there have little education and in his words many people are left “with no future, no hope either”.
Ohio City Farm has a weekly farm stand on Saturdays, a CSA program with 200 members and many of the city’s best restaurants order their vegetable daily.
The current team of six refugees hand farm all six acres, which means they are planting, cultivating, fertilizing and harvesting the vegetables.
“Growing the vegetables is also one of my favorite things to do so I got the opportunity to work at the farm it’s really good for me,” Lar Doe said. He and the other refugees make a living wage and are able to practice their English and get acclimated to their new lives.
Ohio City Farm gets frequent requests from cities and farmers around the country who want to know how the farm is run, why it is so successful and how it can be replicated.
“There are farmers in the United States who have many experiences for many, many years and they come here and want to learn something that we are doing here. So it’s very surprising and very impressive too” Lar Doe said.
This summer Hollywood star and humanitarian Angelina Jolie, who is known for her own work with refugees, toured the farm and met with the refugees.
The staff at the farm shares a meal together every day at lunch, which Bartunek says illustrates the most valuable part of the entire operation, the blending of cultures that takes place there.
“I have an absolute value that I hold, which is that time you get to spend with someone from such a different background,” Bartunek said.
The farm welcomes visitors May through November to take a walk through the fields and enjoy the view or shop at the farm stand. For information on volunteering or joining the CSA, click here.